Weekend open thread: Cost of doing nothing edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

Sunday’s Des Moines Register includes a good feature by Lauren Mills of IowaWatch.org and the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism. She lays out how payday lenders are “burying Iowans” in debt. Iowa Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Joe Bolkcom pointed out that the payday lending business model depends on “locking people into this cycle of debt.” Previous research has indicated that payday lenders cost Iowa consumers about $36 million per year. Mills reports that this industry spends heavily on campaign contributions and lobbying the Iowa legislature. Lobbyists talk a good game about jobs and helping people who need cash for emergency expenses. But think how many more jobs could be created if Iowans living paycheck to paycheck had $36 million more to spend on goods and services, rather than on outlandish “loan shark rates.”

Mills reports that legislation to regulate interest rates charged by payday lenders has been stalled. Bolkcom said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal won’t bring up the bill unless it can pass the Republican-controlled Iowa House. House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer called that a “convenient excuse” for the Senate not to act. I haven’t noticed her or any other House Republicans acknowledging this problem, though.

The best chance for Iowa lawmakers to address payday lending was during the period when Democrats controlled “the trifecta.” In 2007, the Iowa House and Senate approved, and Governor Chet Culver signed, a bill capping interest rates on car title loans. (Such legislation had been stalled for years when Republicans controlled the Iowa House, although it attracted bipartisan support in both chambers in 2007.) Three years later, Bolkcom and then Iowa House Democrat Janet Petersen made a major push to pass a similar interest rate cap on payday lenders. However, industry lobbyists warned that such a law would put payday lenders out of business, as had happened with car title lenders. A wide range of organizations supported the payday lending reform, including the Iowa Attorney General’s office, the Iowa Catholic Conference, the Child and Family Policy Center, and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. But ultimately, the House version of that bill died when conservadem State Representative Mike Reasoner sided with two Republicans to kill it in subcommittee.

Some Iowa local governments, most recently in Waterloo, have passed zoning rules to try to prevent payday lenders from targeting low-income neighborhoods. But state regulations are the only realistic way to stop the cycle of debt perpetuated by lenders who keep borrowers coming back for more high-interest loans and cash advances. Iowans on the edge are paying the price for the legislature’s failure to act years ago.

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